With the increasing popularity of nano satellites and their high potential in research value when operating in vast numbers, this project aims to find a solution to launch them frequently and cheap. Using the principals of a coil gun (or Gauss gun), magnetic force is used to accelerate the satellites and shoot them into orbit. The satellites will be launched using 3D printed capsules that anyone can personalize to fit their nano satellite inside.

This project is solving the Space Cadets challenge.


Space Apps Challenge 2014 Challenge: Space Cadets

Challenge Description: Create an open hardware design for the European Space Agency (ESA) that can be generated by a 3D printer. All of the open hardware designs will go into a public domain library of designs, and ESA will pick the best one to emerge from the 2013 International Space Apps Challenge.

Solution: Coil Launcher

Concept The concept is based on a coil gun (or Gauss gun) which uses the magnetic fields of sequentially powered coils to accelerate a projectile (magnetic or ferromagnetic) along a track. In other words, the track contains several coils in series that switch on one after another, attracting the magnetic projectile causing it to accelerate.

In respect to the initial intention of the challenge, the idea is that for the encapsulation of the nano satellites a 3D printed model can be used. This way researchers and engineers who design and build a nano satellite have more freedom in their dimensions because they can adjust the encapsulation to fit their satellite. In addition, a model coil launcher been 3D printed as well.

Model operation The 3D printed model is a 15 cm long tube that has three notches in it where coils are wound. Each coil is driven by a MOSFET circuit that in turn is driven by a BeagleBone I/O card. The code that drives the MOSFETs gates is uploaded to Github, Granted, this shall not give the best results but for three coils, which our model has, it is manageable to time the intervals accurately. If indeed implemented, a control circuit is of course needed. Ideally, the magnetic field of the coils will also switch polarity when the projectile is in the middle. This way, not only do the magnetic fields of the coils attract the projectile, they also repel it upon exiting the coil.  

Advantages - Low cost launches (~$40/ kg) - Frequent launches which can quickly realize networks of nano satellites - No moving parts therefore little to no erosion of materials - Environment friendly

Possible further applications

The moon (or mars) because of lower gravity and no atmosphere which could significantly reduce size.

Integration of Space App Challenge: Convert smartphone into satellite. 3D printing of projectile to fit smartphone

Project Information

License: GNU Affero General Public License 3.0 (AGPL-3.0)"

Source Code/Project URL:


Inspiration for launcher concept -
How to make a coil gun -
MOSFET driver for each coil -
Project set-up of the model launcher -
Coil launcher concept -


  • Wendy Mensink
  • Hernando Faddeev
  • Dabian Oosterloo